Tasting, tasting: Adnams beer tasting with Fergus Fitzgerald

Yes, yes, I know I’m writing about Adnams again but that’s because it’s perhaps the most progressive of the old established brewers in Britain and regularly has new things to shout about.

Anyway some friends and I, including fellow blogger The Guest Ale (until this point an Adnams sceptic, you can read his take on the same event here) couldn’t resist the offer of £10 tickets for a guided tasting of Adnams’ many beers in September in the company of its head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald. And what a well spent £10 it proved to be.

Given the surroundings, downstairs at the Adnams Cellar & Kitchen store in Bloomsbury, a tasting of Adnams ales in cask-conditioned form would have been impractical. And the company doesn’t produce bottle-conditioned beers due to their wide distribution and requirement for a decent shelf-life. Nonetheless, Adnams beers seem particularly resistant to the brewery conditioning process that often knocks the stuffing out of many other breweries’ products, managing to maintain the house character derived from the Southwold brewer’s uniquely spicy yeast. Either that or Adnams has developed a far more sympathetic process.

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Tasting, tasting: Wemyss Malts at the Whisky Squad

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Whisky Squad!

I’d heard of Whisky Squad long before I finally attended one of their tasting evenings. As a regular drinker at my favourite Clerkenwell pub The Gunmakers until my work moved to the West End last year, I’d several times been kept from sitting in the back room because it had been booked out, according to pub landlord Jeff Bell, by “a bunch of folk drinking whisky”. Or some words along those lines.

Strangely, given that I’m a considerable enthusiast for beer’s distilled cousin, I didn’t enquire any further at the time. As such, I only recently came to full awareness of the Squad through some random web surfing and avowed that I’d get along to one of their £15 sessions ASAP.

Whisky Squad events are extremely popular with those in the know and demand commitment to reserve a place, tickets going on sale online for the (usually) two or three events a month at an appointed time and data and typically selling out in minutes.

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Lancashire hot spots part deux: Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar

Giving column space over to non-alcoholic drinks might seem at odds with the name of this blog but then I’ve always left the door open to writing about any drinks-related topics that interest me, whatever their provenance. And in the case of Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall, north of Bury in Lancashire, I’m very much interested.

Mr Fitzpatrick’s is a temple (well, actually more like a chapel), dedicated to the 19th century temperance movement, an ill-conceived effort started by well-meaning religious types to persuade the ‘oi polloi away from the demon drink.

Although temperance bars were once common in the north west of England, Mr Fitzpatrick’s is now the last of its kind. Opened in 1890, Mr Fitzpatrick’s unspoiled, uncomplicated interior of wooden counters and floors, jars of old-fashioned boiled sweets and other ingredients, is a piece of living history that might also provide ideas for the future, as a better alternative to modern soft drinks for those who can’t or don’t want to consume alcohol for whatever reason.

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Lancashire hot spots: four unusual beer outlets in Manchester environs

A recent trip north to the land of my paternal grandmother (yes, I’m a quarter Lancastrian) on a quest to see five of the remaining six “Deltic” diesel locomotives gathered in one place (I’m no trainspotter but these monsters took a hold on my imagination as a kid that remains today) also gave me the opportunity to sample a wide range of ales in some interesting bars and pubs in Manchester and in around Bury.

While there are many worthwhile pubs in the vicinity, including historic gems such as Manchester’s famous Peveril of the Peak, I’ll focus on some of the more unusual ones here, in keeping with the leaning of this blog and lack of time and space to do the others justice. Two of these were bars in central Manchester notable for strong emphases on beer while breaking the normal rules of pubs. Another was an on-site brewery bar in Ramsbottom, just north of Bury, while the last was the station buffet at the Bury end of the preserved East Lancashire Railway.
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Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder: Adnams Verte vs Jade Edouard

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Absinthe has undergone a revival in the 2000s

I’d always promised to write about less-appreciated realms of alcoholic exploration in these pages but find myself having less opportunity than I’d thought, especially given the facts that a) my time is limited, b) I’m keen to avoid becoming primarily a reviews site and c) so much has been happening in my key area of interest, i.e. beer.

However, once again the rejuvenated Adnams has come to my rescue by coming up with something entirely unexpected. Well by me at any rate. If its recent adventures in mainstream spirits (gin and vodka) and beer-derived ones (Spirit of Broadside and its still slumbering whisky) weren’t enough the East Anglian drinks maker and importer’s Copper House Distillery has now extended its interests to that scourge of the pre-World War One Belle Époque Paris, absinthe. Or, more accurately, absinthes. One the traditional olive green Absinthe Verte (aficionados like to describe the colour as “peridot”), the other the hibiscus red Absinthe Rouge, both 66% ABV. Being a traditionalist I opted to buy a bottle of the Verte.

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Bottled bitters under 3%: more tales from the low end

I’ve written a few times now on my interest in finding good quality beers brewed deliberately to a low strength (3% and lower). When successfully executed such brews (mainly ales; lagers struggle to be palatable below 4% in my view) offer an excellent alternative for drinkers who want to limit their alcohol intake – especially during long pub sessions – and avoid the ignominious need for a Diet Coke or mineral water halfway through.

Brews such as Redemption Brewing Co’s Trinity (3%) – which I’ve been fortunate to sample several times and which definitely has my approval when cask conditioned – have now been joined by quite a few others and I’ve been gratified to see that several larger breweries around the country have noticed the opportunity and risen to the challenge, though I’ve failed so far to happen upon them in “real ale” form.

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Un-Real Ale Festival highlights new wave of London beer

Saturday last week brought my first opportunity to attend a kind of beer event that I expect will become more common in future.

The mischievously-titled Un-Real Ale Festival in North London, promoted by BrewDog’s Camden branch plus other local brewers and outlets, was described as an opportunity to sample beers “banned” from CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival this week on account of their being brewery conditioned or “keg” in the real ale drinker’s parlance.

BrewDog’s antagonism towards CAMRA is well known, the brewery seeing CAMRA’s cask- and bottle-conditioned position as shortsighted. This is a view I have a great deal of sympathy with. Modern keg is a million miles away from the filtered, pasteurised, gassed up, preservative laden (and usually under-strength) abominations that inspired CAMRA’s creation. Nowadays they’re often themselves unpasteurised and increasingly unfiltered (sometimes to the point of turbidity, see below), much in line with what CAMRA itself advocates.

That’s not to say that cask and keg are equivalent. Cask-conditioning in the pub (as well as bottle-conditioning) remains for me a peerless way – when executed to perfection – to add an extra dimension of complexity to ales (it doesn’t always work well for so-called “real lagers” in my view), especially Britain’s lower strength variations such as bitter and mild. But many (many) modern keg beers I’ve sampled, whether in Britain or abroad (check out many of the posts on this blog), have been excellent and they certainly offer outlets that aren’t geared up for “real ale” (i.e. most outside of the UK and quite a few in it) an opportunity to invigorate and participate in the global rebirth of interest beer and to spread the word.

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Truly Local drinks for local people

A recent planned visit to my sister’s place in Norfolk led to an unplanned visit to a fine outlet for interesting, and sometimes fairly alternative, tipples.

Truly Local in Stalham in north east Norfolk – only a few miles from the drowning village of Happisburgh – has already found a modicum of fame through the patronage of Prince Charles who made an impromptu visit to the 15 month-old shop in February.

It would be wrong to describe Truly Local – which is run as a not-for-profit business – as a specialist drinks outlet, however. The shop sells local produce of many kinds sourced from within a 35 mile radius of the shop (which in practice means that half its catchment area is actually underwater – still there’s nothing to stop seafood being part of the offering!). Shop manager Mick Sims explained that while the 35 mile radius might seem arbitrary it was in fact a cunning ploy to enable the shop to sell whiskies from the The English Whisky Co. Ltd.’s St. George’s Distillery in Roudham.

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Four saisons in one day … and another three the next

Among all beer kind, the brews from French-speaking Belgium labelled “saison” can lay claim to being among the most idiosyncratic species I’ve sampled. Perhaps even more so than lambics, where a distinct family resemblance is at least clear, the beers described as saisons by Walloon brewers have often seemed to have little in common but their name.

Sometimes weird, usually wonderful, and often among the most spectacularly lively beers I’ve ever encountered (some of the saisons I’ve tried down the years would put Champagne to shame during a Formula One podium celebration), the saisons of Dupont, a Vapeur (Saison de Pipaix), Blaugies (Saison D’Epeautre), Fantome and others (as well as the other, clearly related beers not under that label from Walloon country brewers) were unsurprisingly, given their explosiveness, well attenuated and often very dry.

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Adnams: the spirit and lite of Sole Bay

Southwold, Suffolk family brewer Adnams is for me, like Harveys of Lewes, a beacon for traditional British brewing, its values embodied in its accomplished, highly individual beers. Unlike its Sussex rival, Adnams has taken a decidedly entrepreneurial attitude to its business in recent years launching not only a range of special brews (including continental styles such as a Cologne-style Kölsch and a Dutch-style bokbier) but now also distilling some accomplished spirits, too.

Adnams has also begun opening its Adnams Cellar & Kitchen stores further afield, taking the company’s own beers and spirits, plus an extensive range of wines (Adnams has long been a wine importer and merchant, even if it hasn’t been well known as such) and kitchen goods outside its East Anglian homeland.

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